Letters of Recommendation are crucial to the success of any application. The best letters of recommendations highlight not only your past academic performances, but also the consistency of your work and your potential to succeed in graduate school.
Tip #1—Familiarity is Key—When you are thinking about whom to ask to write a letter of recommendation, it is important to remember that the best letters reflect a deep knowledge of your work and your life as a student. Because of this necessary knowledge of your abilities, the best letter writers will be professors who have gotten to experience your work many times and seen your progression in your field throughout the years because they will be the best able to predict your future growth.
Tip #2—Ask Early—The more time that a professor has to prepare a letter, the more time he or she has to remember all of the wonderful things that you did in his or her class and the more comprehensive the final letter will be. Established relationships are incredibly important. Do not ask your professor if he or she is running out of the door at the end of class. Engage him or her during office hours or during an appointment and be polite. Most professors will want to discuss your application with you, and this requires time and your own availability. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. Professors are busy people, too. Give them plenty of advance warning.
Tip #3—Give Them Everything That They Need—To talk about your strengths, your experiences, and your future project, your recommenders need to be familiar with all of the relevant aspects of your application. This means sending them your personal statement, your resume, your writing sample, your project proposal, and anything else that might help them write your recommendation. It is your responsibility to see that they have all of the materials to complete the recommendation for you. Make them especially aware of the deadlines and the means by which the recommendation should be submitted, as it is your responsibility to make sure that your application is complete.
Tip #4—DO NOT Forget About Them – Keep your professors informed. The first thing that you should do after you turn in your application is to thank each of your professors for their contribution. Write them thank you notes. Thank them in person. Keep them up-to-date on the decisions of the graduate schools, even if they are not the decisions for which you are hoping, as these professors care about you and want you to succeed and may even have some advice if things do not go your way.